You happen to be in a public park and you spot a small child. It doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl. You look around. The park is desolate, save a couple of school kids wearing winter coats and plaid skirts, backpacks intact, running off into the distance. You make small talk with the small child.
You say, “What a big boy/girl you are to play in the park alone. Although you don’t look old enough to play in the park alone. Not this park, not in a city like this. You better come with me—get your thumb out of your mouth—because there are lots of crazy people in this world. I am not one of them.” You wonder if this is true. About the world, you mean.
You tell the child to shed trepidation like a snake sheds its jaggy skin. You tell the child you have candy. You take the child by the hand. You talk to it. You say, “What is your name?” But the child is programmed not to tell you. You show the child a picture of your latest. It is a picture of a brick building. The child looks as if he’ll/she’ll fade-out into the background like in a funky foreign film. You say, “Come with me.” Although the child is not programmed to do that, either, it does. Perhaps because of a behavioral malfunction.
The park looks as if it’s been shot in black and white. The park is all shadow and drama.
“What does that say on your jacket?” you say. “I don’t need reading glasses yet, but sometimes I have trouble with the fine print. What I mean is, I have trouble reading between the lines. Reading between the lines, like fine print, is a suicide note written on eggshells.” The child has no clue what the fuck you mean. You sense this. You say, “I mean, reading between the lines is a love note I’ll never solve.” Still.
Your apartment is beyond the park’s trees on the other side of the lake. You tell the child to watch its step. “Watch your step,” you say. You say, “Do you swim? Do you swim in lakes? I swim, but not in that lake.” You are referring to the lake in the park. “That lake is like quicksand.” You mean that that lake is deep and deep and deep. “You can’t see your toes when you stand, and if you’re not standing, well. You can’t see anything underneath!” This is what you said. What you meant was: the bottom is muck green. If you stood your feet would go squish into mud. The child drags his/her feet. You say, “Don’t drag your feet.”
“It’s a rare day,” you say. What you mean is, it’s raw. You mean, it’s six degrees, you don’t mean not cooked.
Ice coats skinny branches of a tree and frost binds the air. “Look,” you say, “those branches are as spindly as a witch’s finger and the air, pitch blend, is like the breath that comes out of a witch’s head.” You mean out of her mouth, not head. Technically, it is the same thing.
It’s overcast. It’s getting dark. You check your watch and say, “Let me check my watch—it’s getting late and it’s getting dark. The ground is frozen—watch, don’t slip. It’s not good when it gets dark not late. It may even be the darkest day of the year! I love years but I hate days.”
The child anticipates sweets. Maybe not.
“We’ll have you back for supper. Don’t tell your mother. I mean, about me, I mean, about the sweets. She might get cross. What I mean is, it might spoil your supper and I’m a stranger.” You regret saying this.
“Where do you live?” you say, “there? Or there?” The child must have told you, or, most likely pointed somewhere because you say, “Oh, there.” You sigh. “I’ve never been over there.” You feel something. Envy maybe, because you say, “People who live there wear rubies.” You wear fake gems.
Nobody is home at your apartment, but when you say apartment out loud you say flat. You call it a flat because a flat sounds better. It sounds all Euro. Nobody is ever home where you live—maybe because you live alone. You recollect why. Then you say,
“My ex left me last January. He said, Have A Good Year! I thought he said, Wish You Were Here!” Now solitude makes sense.
You give the kid a teensy pat. “You’re a good sport,” you say. “If you were an actress/actor I’d give you a part.” A part in what you aren’t sure.
Finally you’re at your apartment, excusez-moi, I mean, flat. You search for your keys. It’s not in this pocket. It must be in that. There it is. It is poking out from underneath the doormat.
“We must climb those stairs five times,” you say. You say this because there are five sets of stairs. Why? Because you live on the sixth floor, duh.
It’s almost Christmas and you have no gingerbread. That’s because you don’t bake. You don’t buy gingerbread, either. You ask the child, “What is Santa bringing you this year?” Before the child answers, you say, “Do you want to know what I found under my tree last year?” The child waits. Or doesn’t care, either way you say, “Christmas day.”
You open your closet because you tell the child this is where the candy is like it’s normal to keep candy in a closet. All he/she sees is a row of boxes. “See the boxes?” you say. You don’t say, See the shoeboxes? because some of them are boot boxes. Which means some held boots once, not shoes. All the boxes contain your best-kept secret minus one. You ask the child if he/she likes lollipops. He/she nods and you ask which flavor. You open a box full of lollipops. (Yes, you really do have a box full of lollipops.) If it’s a boy he’ll pick orange. If it’s a girl, she’ll pick purple. That’s just the way it is. You think: orange, like your brain, is frenetic. Purple, like images in the Rorschach test, is violent. In short, you are dealing with a child who harbors either frenetic or violent tendencies. Nowhere do you believe color correlates to flavor. You wonder if you are in fact evaluating yourself.
You say, “Let’s go home before your mother starts to worry.” But the child doesn’t want to leave. You don’t know this for sure, it’s a hunch. You assume the child either a.) doesn’t get lollipops at home, or b.) likes you. If you have a low self-esteem you’ll circle a.) If you have a high self-esteem you’ll circle b.) Maybe it’s the other way around.
The day pulls back from you. The windows are black squares flecked with light. You are at a loss for what will happen next. You place your ear to the listening: the itinerant wind, lost in the barren city, and you wait.
Jennifer Juneau’s work has appeared in publications such as Alimentum, Cimarron Review, Cincinnati Review, Evergreen Review, Fairy Tale Review, Fox News Sports, Pank, Passages North, Portland Review, Prick of the Spindle, Seattle Review, Verse Daily and so forth, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for Fiction and the Million Writers Award. Jennifer has studied postmodern literature and literary theory in the University of Zurich’s graduate program for English language literature and linguistics. Her writing influences include David Foster Wallace, Miranda July, Donald Barthelme and David Markson. She just completed a short story collection and works part time as a world football journalist, reporting in Switzerland.